Tag Archives: Auxiliars

North American Language and Culture Assistants/Auxiliares Q&A Part 5

A little more info on leaving the program….

Hi, I am an auxilary in Granada. I am very unhappy–terrible homesickness–and am thinking of leaving the program at the end of February. I was wondering how “the powers that be” (aka the regional coordinators) took the news? How did you ‘frame’ your story—did you tell them that you were unhappy, or had found a better offer, or what? I don’t know how to tell them. And did you tell your school first, or those in charge of the Andalucia program in Sevilla? I live in the city, but work in a pueblo. I’m there around 20 hours a week because it is super remote and there is no options for buses, so I commute….I spent 8 hours a week in the teachers lounge twiddling my thumbs, and the rest of the time I sit in the classes and pronounce words in English occasionally. I’m really bored, and lonely, which I think is exacerbating the home sickness.

So it sounds like your situation is similar to what mine was, except that you live in a big city on the weekends….so I totally sympathize with feeling like you’re in the middle of nowhere, wondering what the point of the whole program is, etc.
I had two schools and one of them was VERY welcoming and nice and awesome and the other didn’t really bother to include me in anything. I was super nervous about telling both of them that I was leaving, but for different reasons. Neither of them took the news especially well, in that they seemed disappointed and tried to convince me to stay, but there was no problem at all with actually leaving. No one yelled, no one lectured me, no one took away my NIE or my money! I had to sign a statement saying that I was electing to leave, and they had to pay me for the work that I did. I made sure to leave on the first of the month so that the process of receiving my last paycheck was easy….I was paid monthly and normally got paid on the 1st, so on my last day I collected my check and left. I actually asked them if I was going to get paid for the last month because I really needed the money, and they said (and I quote) “Come on we’re not THAT terrible!” Truth is, they weren’t terrible about it at all, even the principal at my elementary school who didn’t like me because I had taken two days off in December to go on a trip with my boyfriend. He was also bitter that he had been assigned to a little middle-of-nowhere school so far from where he wanted to be living. I must admit I did go to the bank and cash that check RIGHT away just in case they changed their mind…
I don’t know what kind of relationship you have with your school or your coworkers, but if you’re comfortable with it, my first piece of advice would be to talk to the person who you’re most comfortable with and tell them that you are really unhappy. If you tell the school that you are thinking about leaving because you’re terribly homesick and don’t feel like you’re being utilized properly in their English program, maybe they will do something to fix it. Unless you have a particularly unfriendly batch of coworkers, I don’t see what the downside to doing that could be, besides perhaps a little bit of awkwardness. I think if I had made more of an effort to approach the coworkers who I was friends with and told them that I needed some help and support to keep me from leaving, they would have gone out of their way to help me out. In the classroom I know that I also didn’t really enjoy work when there wasn’t really work to do….I actually maintained my blog during the hours I spent in the teachers lounge and the only reason I didn’t complain about having to sit around for so long doing nothing was because I didn’t have internet in my house or anywhere else, so those precious hours were the only times I could check email, etc. But it was still super frustrating that I was going SO out of my way (my weekly commute was about 6 hours by bus total) for something that didn’t really matter to anyone.
The best days for me were the days where I put a little extra effort into my lesson plans (one of my schools let me run a full class, at the other school I just stood there and smiled) and realized that the kids totally loved when I was there. If you have the ability, ask if you can maybe branch out in class. I love arts and crafts and on the days that I brought those things into the classroom, I actually liked working and felt like the kids got something out of it. Some days I’d bring in American food like maple syrup for the high schoolers to taste and describe in English, other days I would force them to act out Thanksgiving plays (complete with costumes I made in my very plentiful free time) in English…when they were having fun, I was having a much better time.
Not living in the town the entire week made it much harder for me to bond with anyone in the area and the fact that I had two apartments (one in the town where I worked, one in a slightly larger town 2-3 hours away where there were other auxiliars) made it almost impossible for me to ever feel like I was “home.” All my stuff was divided between two locations, I couldn’t afford anything nice, we never had hot water or heat….I was less than comfortable in the places I rented, to say the least. BUT, if you have an opportunity to make friends with neighbors, coworkers, etc., do it! I should have told someone earlier that I was unhappy because there were a lot of great people around me who would have helped me out….I was just too nervous and unsure to say anything.
If you don’t think bringing up your homesickness to someone else would work, of if you try and are still feeling terrible, then leave. Tell your school honestly that you really tried but are simply too unhappy to stay in the program. You’re not their slave, you didn’t sign over your year to them, they can’t take any legal action against you or punish you because you are unhappy and want to leave. If you get paid quarterly and have been paid for work that you haven’t done yet, I’m sure that will need to be worked out, but don’t feel like they are going to mistreat you because you’re leaving. One of the things that made it easier for me to leave was that I KNEW that they weren’t getting any kind of huge benefit from me being there. They didn’t make an effort to incorporate me into lesson plans, and I usually felt like my presence was just being used by the English teachers as an easy way to catch a bit of a break while I took over their class for an hour. I felt like a burden to them at times, and even though I knew the kids were sad that I was leaving, I also knew that I was more of an exciting novelty in the town and my absence wasn’t going to hurt their English-learning in any significant way.
In retrospect, I would have tried harder to stay. I would have put more of an effort in and told people ahead of time that I didn’t feel happy. I really wish that I could have put the program on my resume instead of the awkward half-blank that I had to strategically explain while job hunting back in the States, trying to not look like a quitter. But I also remember how miserable I was at the time and I know that there were a number of other things bothering me besides just feeling bored and lonely. The program is supposed to be a great experience for you and a great value to the schools you work at. If you’re not having a great experience and the school isn’t getting anything out of you being there, then what is the point, really?
I miss Spain and wish I was back there (though obviously if I returned I would want the circumstances to be a little different from my auxiliar experience!). I know that I’m probably never going to have the opportunity to put everything on hold and go back, and it bothers me that my experience wasn’t 100% positive. But I also have some GREAT stories about my weird little adventure that not too many other people have experienced or seen.
Good luck, give it one last try, and bottom line, do whatever makes you happy and won’t leave you with regret. If you have any more questions, let me know. It’s been a while since I was there but it’s a hard experience to forget. (and next time my reply won’t be sooooo long!).
I do have one last question, if you don’t mind—do you not mention your participation in the program AT ALL on your resume? Or do you just say that you worked from October-March?
To answer your last question, I did put the program on my resume, October-March. I also put my experience as “private English teacher” on for the remainder of my time in Spain. In general, I think having something on there is better than having a big gap. If you have a gap, they’re going to ask you about it anyway, so might as well be up front with it. In my experience, it’s an interesting addition to anyone’s resume and an easy conversation starter in the interview process. I think it’s very good for showing independence, ability to solve problems, step outside your comfort zone etc. I did have one interview in which they asked me why the program was so short….I explained why I left, and I feel like it left a bad impression. I didn’t get that job (I don’t think that was the reason, but it certainly didn’t help). However, I was up front about the experience during the interview for my current job, explaining my reasons for leaving, and they hired me . I did frame it more like “I wasn’t getting the experience that I wanted out of the program and I know the school wasn’t getting the benefit that they were supposed to get from my presence, so I left to do something that would be better for me.” I tried to present my leaving the program as a show of assertiveness rather than quitting, and I think it worked.
It’s certainly not the end of the world resume-wise, but it would have been a lot easier to have the whole thing on there. No one likes having to talk about quitting anything during a job interview!
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North American Language and Culture Assistants/Auxiliares Q&A Part 4

Some more questions I received via email, this time from a current auxiliar on quitting and alternatives to the program …

I am an Auxiliar and I found your blog post about quitting and becoming an au pair in Madrid. I love it here, but, was thinking about quitting to be an au pair, or maybe do the WWOOF farm thing and really focus on my Spanish while I am here. I am also applying for jobs back home and want to go back if I get one. I am wondering about the process for quitting. Could you tell me how it went? I was paid for 3 months at once and am wondering if my next payment is like that, will I need to pay back some or.. I don’t know, I just could not find any information about breaking the contract or anything. How did the school react? Thank you for your help. I am glad I found the post.

I’d be happy to give you my two cents, though it sounds like there are a few differences between our two experiences!

First of all, you say that you love it where you are; if that’s true, then stay! Stick it out and continue enjoying your time. I have to say, I regret leaving the program because quitting something never feels good AND it’s awkward to explain to people why you didn’t finish, especially if the person asking is someone reviewing your resume. I know that at the time I was absolutely desperate to get out and felt totally alone in La Puerta de Segura, but I really wished I had tried a little harder to get through it because it was an extremely valuable experience, and looking back, I didn’t take advantage of so many things that I might never get to experience again. My experience in Madrid was great, but it’s one that so many people have and looking back, my most unique, valuable memories are the ones that came out of the little hardships of getting through the program. Chances are that very few people have ever experienced just what you’re experiencing right now, and it’s something to hold on to if you can!

That being said, if you are really miserable or unhappy or just feel like you REALLY don’t want to be where you are anymore, here is how I left the program.

1. I arranged my au pair situation before I notified anyone I was quitting. I used an online service and arranged a start date with a family, and all details (pay, vacation days, etc) were established beforehand. THIS CAN BE RISKY. You never know what the family is really going to be like, and a string of emails is not the same thing as a contract. I really really lucked out with my awesome family, but I know other people who didn’t fare so well. I had started looking for au pair positions in early December and didn’t leave until March 1st, so I also gave myself plenty of time to consider the decision and weigh all my options and really make sure I was making the right choice.

2. I gave my schools and my roommates a month’s notice. I didn’t have a lease signed (things were handled a bit differently in small town Spain!) so I was able to just give notice and go without any paperwork. The school was pretty much the same way. I did have to sign something saying that I was electing to leave the program, but they gave me my last paycheck and I left the next day (I was really poor and needed to time that right to survive!!). I was paid monthly, so I’m not sure exactly how it would work with your quarterly payments.

The schools reacted negatively, but differently. My elementary school was sad about my departure. I was closer to the teachers and students there and they had been more welcoming all along. They gave me a goodbye presentation and made me feel really crappy for leaving. My high school was a little colder about the whole thing. The principal there was not as nice and was bitter about having to live in the small town (evidently he hadn’t had much say in his assignment either!). I didn’t get much sympathy from them, but they were the ones who handled my paperwork and gave me my last check, no problems.

Some other things to remember is that the program is pretty great when you’re looking at hours you have to work and payment. You’re probably not going to find another set-up that gives you so much freedom. As an au pair, get ready to say goodbye to your weekends and independence, unless you have a REALLY exceptional family. I had one day off per week (though that didn’t stop the baby from wanting to play), and each month I got one full weekend. That meant no real traveling. I also was only free in the mornings and evenings, which was good in some ways but super annoying in others (you have kind of the opposite schedule of most people our age, though you can still go out at night). Babysitting at night could be a drag, and payment is suuuuper minimal, though all worries of running out of food/water/gas for your hot water are gone because the family takes care of that. Really think about what you want to get out of au pairing and what you have now in the program and make sure the trade-off is worth it.

I don’t know much about WWOOF except that it looks really cool, but also make sure that you have enough money to pursue that option. I’ve heard good things from friends who have done it in New Zealand and other parts of Europe, but they were ok with not having much mobility AND with roughing it, not to mention not having much of an income.

The last thing to think about is private English teaching. That is how I made most of my money in Madrid, and though it carries some risks and isn’t the most consistent of jobs, there are plenty of people looking to learn English in the big Spanish cities, and they are willing to pay good money.

Ok now the real last thing–your NIE should be good for one year from the day you got it, probably sometime in October of this year….why not finish the program and THEN WWOOF or become an au pair for the summer? My understanding is that a lot of families are looking for nannies in the summer when they kids are out of school all day. Spanish summers are incredible and you could extend your stay (kinda) legally. If you’re job-hunting in the US, I would say you are much less likely to find something when you’re not here to physically come in for an interview (that was DEFINITELY my experience), so if you’re not in a rush to come back, think about doing all of the above. Trust me, if I could have stayed longer, I would have in a second, but the long-term boyfriend and my student loans were beckoning and I pretty much ran out of money!

I hope that helps you a little, I know that there is not that much info out there on the program and there’s pretty much NOTHING out there on quitting. Hang in there if you can and please enjoy Spain for me! I miss it so much.

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North American Language and Culture Assistants/Auxiliares Q&A Part 3

More questions from a new Baeza auxiliar:

I was wondering if you could give me some insight into the area, living and teaching. I just received a placement in Baeza at the school CEIP Angela Lopez. I read that you lived in Baeza on the weekends and am wondering what you thought of the town and if you would recommend living there or if it would be a good idea or even feasible to commute from Linares or Jaen. How much is there to do in Baeza and are there many other auxiliares de conversacion in the area? Anything you can tell me about it would be great!

I would love to know about the actual teaching experience (what your responsibilities are, etc…) as well.

Thanks so much for any input!

So first of all, let me tell you that I only lived in Baeza four days a week…I was assigned to a SUPER tiny town about two hours from Baeza and I worked there three days a week and then spent my super long weekends in Baeza. I also was only an auxiliar for five months because I left the program early, having to rent two apartments and commuting two hours every week and being the only auxiliar within like an hour kinda took its toll!

The good news for you is that Baeza is adorable and there are lots of auxiliars there. I think there were twelve when I was there, plus another 6 or 8 in Úbeda, which is literally five minutes away by car, though they manage to drag it into 15 on the bus. You won’t find the bus schedules online, but they go very, very often, from about 7:30am to about 8:30pm.

Jaén isn’t as charming as Baeza, but it definitely has more going on. They have an El Corte Inglés, a RENFE station, and a university, as well as all the other things you associate with Spain, like the big chain stores for shopping, pedestrianized streets, etc. It’s not cute at first, but once you hang out there and learn where the good spots are, Jaén can be a lot of fun! I only went to Linares once or twice because they have a RENFE station (it’s actually a little outside the city) and a movie theatre, etc., but it seemed surprisingly nice! If I were assigned in Baeza, I would probably live in Jaén and then commute, and I would definitely make friends with the other auxiliars in town and crash on their couches as often as possible! That way you get to experience all the cute, charming, small-town-ness of Baeza, but you don’t miss out on other cooler things in Jaén. It’s also a LOT easier to travel from the capital than it is from Baeza. I would go early and visit Linares and Jaén and Baeza (and Úbeda too!) and decide what you like best. Keeping in touch with other auxiliars is key because you can find easy roommates that way and find places to stay as well. I think it’s important to see these cities with people who know their way around, either other auxiliars or locals or Erasmus students, because they are not all that touristy and it can be hard to see the best of them on your own. Use facebook, couchsurfing, and expatriate cafe to find people!

Baeza itself has a few good tapas bars (I can give you names if you want!) and on Fridays they have the most authentic, awesome flamenco shows you could ever imagine in this old wine cellar beneath a bar and they are totally free! It’s usually just guitar and singing, but it’s soooo cool. Not a tourist in sight! Tapas are free throughout Jaén province, which is awesome, and everything is ridiculously cheap. You can get 3 drinks for about 4 euros and each of them will come with a plate of food. Baeza has a great small market (like a baby baby version of La Boqueria, if you’ve ever been to Barcelona), and the locals are SO nice and open to foreigners, mainly because there aren’t many there! Life is cheap in Baeza, but it’s still pretty cheap in the capital and in Linares as well. Go in with an open mind and you will be pleasantly surprised!

I will ask a friend who taught in Baeza if he knows who worked at Angela Lopez, I can’t remember which school that was. At my school I worked 12 hours, spread across tues-wed-thurs, and I did a little of everything: made materials for class, taught vocab and led exercises in the elementary school, created lectures and activies in the high school. My experience was really different because I was working at two schools (one colegio, one instituto) in a really remote town and they changed my schedule so I could leave on the weekends, but everyone works pretty light hours and most people had three day weekends. I also worked in a year zero school, so I was the first auxiliar there ever and I think my responsibilities were a little different than most people. There are a lot of opportunities for private lessons in Baeza, too, which is nice for making extra money. There is a Guardia Civil academy where you can teach, plus lots of language academies and students who want tutors after school. Also, if you’re into the whole guy in uniform thing, there are seriously Guardias-in training EVERYWHERE. It can throw the guy-girl ratio off a lot, and sometimes you feel like everyone in the town is a police officer!

It gets cold there, so be aware of that. I was shocked at how cold it got, and it snowed more than a few times. But it is also going to be hot hot hot when you get there and when you’re about to leave. I would say don’t worry too much about getting a piso before you arrive, you should be able to find something nice pretty easily! I rented a room with another auxiliar and a Spanish girl, and I paid 115 for my room….so cheap!

efully that answered some questions! Let me know if you have any more and good luck! You will love it.

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North American Language and Culture Assistants/Auxiliares Q&A Part 2

Here is another question/answer session with a soon-to-be auxiliar!

Hi, just found your name on the Expat cafe…and thanks for the offer to answer questions, super! Hereby mine: what can you tell about Bailen and Jaén-capital? Distances, places themselves, general opinion, etc….thanks a lot for your time!!!

I am sorry to say that I never actually went to Bailen while I was in Andalucía, so I’m afraid I can’t tell you anything about it! Jaén capital, on the other hand, I did visit quite a bit, so I can give you my two cents on that.

Jaén is about one hour from Granada on a bus, and that is how I first arrived. My first impression was bad. I arrived at night, all alone, with tons of luggage and no idea where I was going. Jaén is not a big tourist town, so you can’t just show up and expect to find a hotel. Anyways, the point is, it may look a little ugly at first, but there are some really nice parts of the city and there are a lot of auxiliars there.

Tapas are free in Jaén, just like they are in Granada, so there are a lot of great tapas bars, and there is an awesom area near the cathedral that is really pretty with narrow, winding streets filled with bars and cafes. It is a lot like some of the old areas in other Spanish cities, but without the tourists! There is also a university in Jaén, so there are a lot of young people there, as well as Erasmus students. I think last year auxiliars were allowed to take Spanish classes at the university for free too.

All of the auxiliars I knew in Jaén really liked it. It’s not super glamorous or big or anything, but the people there are so so nice, and you really do get to experience a tourist-free part of Spain. It is also so cheap in the lesser known parts of Spain, so everything will be really affordable in all parts of Jaén province! Check out www.alsa.com for information on buses in the area. They don’t list everything on there, and there are a few other bus companies that go to Jaén, but for the most part it’s a pretty comprehensive list of your transportation options. Jaén capital also has a RENFE station, I don’t know if Bailen does.

I liked Jaén, though it definitely isn’t as nice as Granada or Sevilla or anything. Try getting in touch with people through Expat Café or Facebook to see if you can stay with some returning auxiliars before deciding where you’re going to live, or you could always couchsurf with a local! That was what I did the second time I went to Jaén and it was soooooo much more fun. I think it’s important to have someone who knows the place to show you around so you actually see the good stuff! Also, beware the accent! If you haven’t been to Andalucía before, the jienense accent might be a little tough to understand! You’ll get used to it!

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North American Language and Culture Assistants/Auxiliares Q&A Part 1

When I first found out about the North American Language and Culture Assistant Program through the Spanish Ministry of Education, I had a lot of questions. Frankly, their website is not super informative, and the Spanish have a reputation for not being very….organized? No matter how I say that it will sound bad, and even though I did feel like the program was kind of a disorganized disaster at times, I still love you Spaniards!

Anyways, I had a lot of questions about the program and no one to turn to. Especially being assigned to a small town that had never had an auxiliar before, I felt a little lost when it came to acquiring info since the most I could really get out of Google was a 1997 news article about a man being beaten to death with an iron rod in my soon-to-be-home  and a video of said town flooding.

That being said, I sympathize with the new auxilars being placed in far-flung pueblos that they can’t find any information on. Expatriate Cafe is a great resource for people who want to connect and get more info, as is Facebook and all the groups that people organize through it, and I have recently been answering some questions for people through those sites on what life is like in a small town in Jaén. This is the grossly long-winded first response, and I will post additional responses here as I send them out. I know some people have already stumbled across this blog looking for information, so hopefully someone out there will be helped! If anyone does find this and have more questions, leave a comment or something with your email and I will get back to you too!

These questions are from an auxiliar placed in a teeny tiny town about an hour from Granada capital and an hour from Jaén capital:

I keep hearing that the school will be able to help with housing and everything once I get there, and that’s great. But my main question is, how do I figure out how to get to the school for the first day? I have emailed the contact at the school and have not yet received a response. Our Andalucia orientation isn’t until October 4th, and we start at the schools on the 1st… Also, you said that it’s easy and cheap to rent rooms in these small towns. Is it like a room in someone’s house, or a shared apartment..?

The address of your school should be written on your acceptance letter. I google mapped mine and did all kinds of crazy research on it before I got there because no one responded to my emails before I left for Spain either, and I was a little nervous! A lot of schools have websites or at least some information online, so do some crazy googling if you have the time and energy. Knowing something about your town will be useful once you arrive. I also did receive a response from the school about two weeks before I was due to arrive in town. They sometimes don’t check the school emails during the summer, but someone should get back to you before you arrive since the schools start about a month before the auxiliars arrive.

The fact that orientation is after the first day of school is stupid, but it was the same thing last year. If your school has never had an auxiliary before (very possible since the town is so small), one of the teachers will be required to go with you, so you’ll have a ride to Jaén. If not, you will at least get a day or two off to go to the capital. Take advantage of groups like Facebook to meet other auxiliars in the province. I met some girls through Facebook who lived in the capital and was able to stay with them the night before orientation since my town was three hours away. It’s a great way to make friends/potential roommates before you go. You also get to meet everyone in the area at orientation, which is basically just a meeting where they give you your health insurance. Don’t expect anything fancy like training (though we did get free lunch!).

As far as what to do with housing goes, my advice is to not worry about it now if you’re not sure where to live. The small towns generally don’t have a large demand for housing, and with teachers commuting all over the place there are usually people with extra space that they’d love to rent out. This area of Spain also isn’t the most affluent, so there are plenty of people looking to make a little money by renting out an extra bedroom. In my town, La Puerta de Segura, I paid 105 to rent a bedroom in a two bedroom apartment with another teacher. It was a nice, furnished apartment, and utilities were about 30 each a month during the winter, when we used the brasero (an under-the-table foot heater you will become very familiar with) a lot. In Baeza, the larger town where I lived during the weekends, I paid 110 or 120 for a bedroom in a three bedroom apartment which I shared with a Spanish girl and another Auxiliar from the UK. It was in the center of the town, really nice, with a balcony with a view of the cathedral on the top floor, so it was’t like I was living in some terrible place. If you live in the capital, you can expect to pay a little more, but probably not over 300 for a bedroom. In Granada, it might be anywhere from 200-400 from what I understand, though I have never rented there. Bottom line is, it’s affordable.

I would say get there early and look around. Have you been to Granada and Jaén? Visit both of them and see if you like them. Stop in Úbeda and Baeza if you feel like you might be interested in a small-town experience. Try to get in touch with those teachers, but don’t freak if they don’t reply. My best decision was to not do anything until I got there. They will probably want to do a lot to help you out because you will be a bit of a rock star in such a small town, and they will want to keep you happy since you’ll be a very valuable teaching tool! Let me know if you have any more questions or if you want contact info for any of the auxiliars I knew who might still be in those cities. Also try the Facebook groups, they are the best for meeting people to stay with, etc.

Another random question for you: How good was your spanish when you arrived in Spain? And did anyone else in your school speak english? My spanish is not horrible, but by no means great.. I’m sure that I will pick it up fast, I’m mostly concerned with that first week or so of figuring out housing and transportation and such.

I had taken Spanish a LOT from second grade through the end of high school, but since that ended in 2004 I had only had four months of Spanish when I studied abroad in Barcelona in 2006. To say it was rusty would have been an understatement! The great thing about a small town is that you have no choice but to learn fast. It might be hard at first if your Spanish isn’t amazing, but you will pick up fast, just don’t get frustrated! The accents in the south are VERY difficult to understand, but the good part about that is that the Spanish you hear anywhere outside of Andalucía will be so clear, you will be amazed! But the accent will be a little difficult at first. I worked at two schools and one of my advisors spoke very good English, the other not so much. In such small towns they aren’t really used to speaking to non-native speakers either, so don’t be afraid to ask people to slow down when they are talking to you! Most people were just curious about why I was there, and the jienenses (people from Jaén) are notoriously friendly. Like, SO friendly! Also, as long as you speak basic Spanish, you will be fine getting around. Take a look at ALSA.com, that will become your best friend and worst enemy, but it’s the best way to get around that area. Brush up on your housing vocab and you’ll be fine. And you’ll be SO proud of yourself once you get it all taken care of! J

Any information you could give me on what it’s like living/teaching in a small town would be great! (People, transportation, basic shopping, etc… anything really) I most likely will try to live in either Granada or Jaen, if possible; but I am still very curious about the small towns. I’ve lived in cities my whole life, Chicago for the last 8 years. I did a semester in Sevilla in college, I think that’s the smallest town I’ve ever lived in haha.  I’m not quite sure how I’ll feel about the tiny villages… Hopefully I’ll love it! Who knows..

I am also a big city girl and living in a small town was a total shock for me, not gonna lie. I was in a town of 2600 three days a week, then spent weekends in the “big town” of Baeza which had 15,000 people, which is about 10,000 smaller than the undergraduate population of the university I went to in California. I went into it with a terrible attitude, which I do NOT recommend doing, mainly because being in a small town has some huge perks. Number one, you are VERY likely to be the only American/English Speaker/Foreigner there, and the experience you get in your town is likely to be way more in-depth and unique than the people who are living in the big cities. You have an opportunity to completely immerse yourself in Spanish culture if you want, though you also have great opportunities to travel and live with other foreigners in the bigger cities if you want. To me, a blend of the two was great. The authentic, traditional experience of the small town, while great, can be a lot to deal with on your own for 9 months, so just turn your weekends in a time to have fun and do what you want to do. Andalucía is GREAT for weekend travel, and you have everything from the beach to skiing all within a few hours. Take advantage of what’s around you!

Also, get to know your town. I didn’t do that nearly as much as I should have and I regret it. Become a regular at the town bar or café. Tapas are free with your drink in Jaén (just like Granada), so learn about the local food and take advantage of the fact that the people in your town will probably want to tell you all about how Jaén is the greatest place on earth (totally a lie, but it usually means you get free food, free tours, introductions to new experiences/places, etc). The teachers, if they are anything like my coworkers were, will want to show you the province, and get to know you, and you should totally do anything that you can with them! People in Jaén are so so so nice, even when you can’t understand them, and there are so many little towns with their own weird traditions all over that province that there is always somewhere to go, some festival to attend, etc.

My advice, ultimately, is to give it a try and have an open mind. For me, I had five months in the south before I decided that I was a little too far from civilization. I had a long-term boyfriend about eight hours away who was also an auxiliary, and I let that get to me as well. In the end, I wimped out and moved to Madrid, quitting the program. I don’t want to discourage you in any way because I think your assignment will allow you to live in a bigger city and commute to your small town to get the best of both worlds, which is what I wanted. I just was sooooo far away that it was too much. The program had already given me my NIE though, so I was able to go to Madrid and work as an au pair and an English teacher and have a great last four months. If you absolutely hate the program for whatever reason, or if it’s just not a good fit, at least it will get you your NIE and you can move on to something that fits you better.

But honestly, the fact that you can live in Granada or Jaén is AMAZING. If you can do Granada, make it happen. You will love that city (if you haven’t been there). Jaén is not as cool, but don’t write it off completely. The first time I went there I was alone and I hated it, but somehow I think they totally get the best auxiliars there. The people I met in Jaén had such a great time and LOVED it so much. The tapas are free, everything is cheap, there is a university, and you even get free Spanish classes there! It’s a fine alternative to Granada if you can’t make that work.

So yeah, basically that is it. Wait to talk to your teachers to see if you can carpool from a big city each day to work. I bet that ends up working out for you. If not, try out small town life and see how it goes! You’ll only truly know your options once you get there and ask around. Plan to get to Andalucía about a week early so you can check everything out. You can also always look into buying a little car for 1000 euros or something and driving yourself. Gas is expensive, but as long as you can drive stick, it gives you another option!

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